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Author Archives: Matt Lara

About Matt Lara

Matt is the resident social media guru and website guy, working on the marketing and communications team. He supports GO Topeka, the Topeka Chamber of Commerce, Entrepreneurial & Minority Business Development, Forge and Heartland Visioning.
  1. MEDIA RELEASE: EMBD to Host 37th Annual Small Business Awards

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    MEDIA RELEASE

    Contacts: Glenda Washington, vice president, enterpreneurial & minority business development, 785.234.2644

    Ashley Charest, vice president of resource development, 785.234.2644

     

    TOPEKA, Kan., Feb. 14, 2017: GO Topeka’s Entrepreneurial and Minority Business Development and the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce are seeking nominees for their Annual Small Business Awards. The event recognizes small businesses that have made significant contributions to the Topeka community through demonstrated excellence in the following categories:

    • Emerging Entrepreneur of Distinction – Successful business owner who has been in business one to two years.
    • Non-Profit Award of Distinction – Must be legally formed as one of the following: 501(c)3, 501(c)4, 501(c)5, 501(c)6.
    • Minority and Women Owned Business of Distinction – A minority-owned business is a business that is at least 51% owned and operated by one of the following: Native American, Hispanic/Latino, African-American, Asian/Pacific Islander or Subcontinent Asian. A woman-owned business is a business that is at least 51% owned and operated by a female.
    • Capital City Business of Distinction – An individual who owns 51% of a small business and is responsible for the principal operations of the small business.
    • Small Business Advocate – Provides technical assistance to small businesses, supports the development of entrepreneurs or raises the awareness about the importance of small businesses to the community.

    Nomination forms and category descriptions are available online at GOTopeka.com/SBA or TopekaChamber.org/events/SBA and submissions will be received through March 10, 2017.

    This year’s Small Business Awards Luncheon is set for Tuesday, May 9, at noon at the Maner Conference Center, Capitol Plaza Hotel. Kansas Department of Commerce’s Secretary Antonio Soave will deliver the keynote address.

    “Recognizing small businesses at our annual Small Business Awards is just one more way to continue to promote that small business is big business for the Topeka community,” said Matt Pivarnik, president and CEO of GO Topeka and the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce.

    Last year’s winners were: 

    • Emerging Entrepreneur of Distinction: MotoVike Films
    • Non-profit Award of Distinction: CASA of Shawnee County
    • Minority and Women Business of Distinction: Reliant Apparel, LLC
    • Capital City Business of Distinction: Clayton Financial Services, Inc.

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  2. MEDIA RELEASE: New Education Opportunities Coming to East Topeka

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    gt-logoMEDIA RELEASE 

    Contact: 

    Barbara Stapleton, vice president of workforce & education, 785.234.2644

     

    TOPEKA, Kan., February 8, 2017: The future East Topeka Learning Center, located at 2014 SE Washington St, Topeka, KS 66607, will be instrumental in the continued development of Topeka and Shawnee County. By ensuring broad educational resources are available for all members of the community. The East Topeka Learning Center will focus on adult education services, workforce development training and success services for Topeka residents.

    It has the potential to reduce the financial burden of college degrees and certificate programs by narrowing the educational gap for disadvantaged residents in the community. Connecting business needs with educational programs reinforces core, aligned skills and assures that students are provided the best program opportunities to support business growth.

    Programs offered will include commercial truck driving (CDL), building technology, healthcare technology, adult education and literary services (GED). Services will include academic and career advising, financial literacy, information literacy and technology, mentoring, military student success services, tutoring and health screenings.

    The Joint Economic Development Organization (JEDO), Washburn University and GO Topeka are dedicated to expanding the reach of educational opportunities within Topeka and Shawnee County. The partnership strives to reduce barriers to post-secondary education and develop work ready skills.

    “Washburn University and Washburn University Institute of Technology are pleased to partner with JEDO on the development of the East Topeka Learning Center,” said Dr. Jerry Farley, President of Washburn University. “We are committed to this project and excited to expand the opportunity for additional education and training possibilities in East Topeka.”

    “Topeka has many qualities that make it a desirable place in which to reside and work. The East Topeka Learning Center is a meaningful addition in providing workforce development, so beneficial in continuing to strengthen our city,” said Mayor Larry Wolgast. “We are excited to see this program locating in East Topeka and providing job training in vital occupations. This is another addition to the quality of life afforded by Topeka.”

    JEDO approved the purchase price of the site for $240,000, in addition to approving up to $4.5 million for the partial demolition and remodel of the existing facility. GO Topeka is working to identify and secure potential funding sources, such as New Markets Tax Credits. The credits could help offset the costs of construction, startup and operation.

    “We are excited to see Shawnee County grow with the help of this new educational opportunity. The East Topeka Learning Center will solidify a strong future for our county,” said Commissioner Kevin Cook. “This will be a victory for our county through increasing the competitiveness of our businesses as well as our citizens.”

    “GO Topeka is dedicated to the competitive future of the Topeka and Shawnee County workforce, striving to grow, retain, and attract talented and educated people,” said Matt Pivarnik, CEO and president of GO Topeka and the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce. “A well-educated workforce is critical to our employers; the East Topeka Learning Center addresses our talent pipeline focus with well-planned insightful educational opportunities.”

    About Washburn University

    Founded in 1865, Washburn University is a public institution with more than 8,000 students and 1,000 faculty and staff involved in more than 200 academic programs. Washburn’s programs lead to certification, associate, bachelor, master’s degree or doctor of nursing practice and juris doctor degrees.

    In addition, Washburn Institute of Technology (Washburn Tech) — a nationally recognized innovator in career and technical education – is also part of the Washburn University family. The dedicated faculty and staff at Washburn Tech serve adult and high school students as well as business and industry participants with career specific training.

    All programs are offered on either the 160-acre residential campus in the heart of Topeka, KS, or at Washburn Tech’s campus on the West Side retail hub of the city. Washburn University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association and many of the individual programs have additional accreditations.

    About GO Topeka
    GO Topeka is a private not-for-profit organization dedicated to enhancing economic development in Topeka and Shawnee County by attracting new businesses, facilitating expansions and enhancing the business acumen of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Since 2002, GO Topeka has generated 11,000 new and retained jobs and $1.3 billion in capital investment. For additional information, visit www.gotopeka.com.

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  3. 2017 Annual Meeting Recap

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    The 2017 Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting was a time for us to reflect on what we did in 2016 and where we are going this year. We kicked the meeting off by showing a great video showcasing the community’s accomplishments from 2016. Check it out:

    Michel’ Cole, Westar Energy, emceed the program and did a great job keeping the audience engaged and listening, as well as transitioning between the speakers. We recognized four remarkable people before our speakers started. These four individuals were key to the organization’s success in 2016.  

    Kyle Mead, Lawyers Title of Topeka, was awarded an Award of Excellence for diligent work to help ensure that each of our members receives a on-on-one visit from a Chamber representative. He promotes engagement while instilling a sense of pride that each individual company is part of a larger network of organizations. Gary Knoll, Berberich, Trahan & Co., CPA who has dedicated himself to promoting fellow businessess and supporting new members. The third award went to Morgan Chilson, the Topeka Capital-Journal, for her unbiased journalism and tactful approach to covering stories about Topeka. Her writing has resulted in more community pride and a well-informed public. The final award went to a long standing board member who has attended more than 300 events in his time, Randy Goldsmith, CBRE. His commitment to serving his volunteers and working with them is unparalleled. 

    The first speaker was the Chamber’s 2015-2016 board chair, Brent Boles, Schendel Lawn & Landscape. Before he started his speech he wanted to recognize an individual who has been key to his success as board chair. Brad Owen, Mize Houser & Company P.A., has been dedicated to helping the Chamber be successful.

    Boles spoke about how 2016 was a year of change for our organization, he led off with one of his favorite quotes

    [Tweet ““If you don’t like change, you will like irrelevance even less” – General Eric Shinseki”]

    “Everyone here may or may not be aware of the major changes that have taken place over the course of 2016. Over the last year we have adopted a new staff of leaders, Mr. Matt Pivarnik included, created a new image for ourselves and taken on innovative tasks as a Chamber to make ourselves more relevant and valuable to our members and community,” said Boles.

    Boles continued by acknowledging that the Chamber has continued moving forward and to succeed through the change that was happening. “We have not stalled; in fact, we’re moving forward with the momentum.”

    Boles spent some time highlighting accomplishments that the Chamber has achieved in 2016.

    • The Small Business Council was established to better meet the needs of our small business members in the community. Lonnie Williams will be the inaugural chair of the council.
    • In Fall 2016, the Chamber and over 70 people attended an Expedition to Des Moines. While on that Expedition, they learned about growing a positive and progressing community. This year was a record number of attendees that included several elected officials.
    • The Military Relations Council was created in partnership with Melissa Jarboe, Military Veterans Project. It is the mission of the Council to recognize the contributions local members of the military make toward our economy and overall community. In doing so, the MRC hopes to facilitate appreciation and communication between our military and business communities to ensure veterans’ needs are met long-term.
    • Fast Forward re-branded to Forge, the young professional program in Topeka/Shawnee County. Forge is working to attract and retain young talent to our community. Thanks to six benefactors, Advisors Excel, Bartlett & West, Capitol Federal, FHLBank Topeka, Washburn University and Westar Energy, Forge offers free membership to everyone.
    • The kickoff of the holistic economic development strategy is a huge accomplishment for not only our organization but the whole community. This strategy will help steer the community to continue to grow and keep the momentum going.

    The success is a result of support and the continued efforts of our partners: Forge, GO Topeka, EMBD, Heartland Visioning, Visit Topeka, Downtown Topeka, Inc., City of Topeka and Shawnee County.

    Janet Stanek, 2017 board chair, then came to the stage to discuss where we are going this year. In 2017, the implementation of the Topeka-Shawnee County Holistic Economic Development Strategy will begin. To make sure that change is happening in our community, five goal areas were created: : develop homegrown talent, quality of life, creating a vibrant and attractive sense of place, entrepreneurial components, promote a positive image and collaborate for a strong community. Stay tuned as the strategy is finalized. 

    Our members are the most important pieces to the puzzle that makes up the Chamber. “We recognize and rejoice that with every FHLBank there is a Hazel Hill Chocolate,” said Stanek. This year we will put a focus on the small business members, who make up a majority of the Chamber members. Also, we will review the events that we are hosting to make sure that it meets the needs and wants of our member base. We want to make certain that the projects that we are put our efforts behind are the projects that our members are interested in and support.

    [Tweet “”We recognize and rejoice that with every FHLBank there is a Hazel Hill Chocolate,” – Janet Stanek”] The Chamber is going to take a bigger role in government advocacy. The Chamber is going to strengthen its presence on a local level with the assistance of the Legislative Affairs Committee and future State House Days. The State House Days will give our members the ability to see the inner workings of the legislature and share concerns with their elected officials. 

    2017 is shaping up to be a busy and successful year for the Chamber and for the community. Keeping the momentum going is what is going to be important. “A mover and a shaker is characterized as both an initiator and influencer. So all of you movers and shakers in the room, keep us moving forward, help us maintain the positive momentum that we have, continue to encourage our youth and young leaders to be engaged, and let’s be standing here next year, highlighting all of the things we shook up.”

    To end the meeting, Matt Pivarnik sat down with Cody Foster, co-founder of Advisors Excel. They discussed several topics about how we can keep our community moving forward. The video of the casual interview was live streamed on our Facebook page. 

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  4. 2016 Yields $116.6 Million in Private Investment and 400 New Full-Time Jobs

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    TOPEKA, Kan., Jan. 13, 2017: Three business expansion projects announced in Topeka-Shawnee County in 2016 equate to a total capital investment of $116.5 million as well as the creation of more than 400 full-time jobs. Futamura USA, SE2 and Reser’s Fine Foods made commitments to invest in facilities, equipment and people. These investments will result in a one-time $145.6 million positive impact to the local economy as well as a $255.3 million recurring annually impact. A total of $2 million in incentives was provided among the three projects, through the Joint Economic Development Organization (JEDO) with assistance from GO Topeka.

    Futamura USA

    Futamura USA acquired the Tecumseh, Kansas cellophane plant from Innovia Films in May 2016. The Japanese company is investing $30 million for infrastructure improvements, equipment and a new manufacturing line. Improvements to the facility, coupled with the company moving some operations from Japan to the Topeka plant will account for a 60 percent increase in production.

    SE2

    SE2 will create 200 new high paying jobs in the Topeka/Shawnee County community. The company currently employs more than 600 people. A JEDO approved incentive will allow SE2 to provide training and development for existing employees as well as add up to 200 new jobs.

    Reser’s Fine Foods

    Reser’s Fine Foods will break ground on a new, state-of-the-art, 300,000 square foot facility this spring. The company intends to invest $86.5 million between the new facility and the rehabilitation of an existing facility. The two-phase expansion will create 180 new full time jobs.

    About GO Topeka

    GO Topeka is a private not-for-profit organization dedicated to enhancing economic development in Topeka and Shawnee County by attracting new businesses, facilitating expansions and enhancing the business acumen of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Since 2002, GO Topeka has generated over 11,000 new and retained jobs and more than $1.3 billion in capital investments. For additional information, visit www.gotopeka.com.

    About Futamura

    Futamura Chemical Co., Ltd., located in Japan and was established in 1950 to manufacture activated carbon. They have expanded the range of businesses into cellulose, plastic films, phenol laminated sheets and saccharification.

    About SE2

    As the leading third party administrator in the life and annuity insurance industry, SE2 uniquely combines its life insurance heritage, expertise in optimizing core insurance operations, seamless and efficient data conversion methodologies, leading edge administration technology platforms and advanced analytics to solve critical business challenges, which include – rapid launching of new products, streamlining of new business administration, profitability of in-force book operations and improved agent and customer services.  For additional information, please visit www.se2.com.

    About Reser’s Fine Foods

    North American-based Reser’s is the leading provider of deli salads, fresh salads, side dishes and prepared foods. Founded in 1950, the company remains privately owned and operated and committed to providing delicious refrigerated foods for the supermarket and foodservice industries. Reser’s operates 18 facilities in the United States and Mexico and employs more than 4,000 employees in the United States, Mexico and Canada. Visit www.resers.com.

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  5. Small Business Saturday Urges the Topeka Community to Shop Local

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    MEDIA RELEASE – Oct. 27, 2016        

    Contact: Glenda Washington, 785.231.6000

     

     

    Small Business Saturday returns on Nov. 26, 2016. Taking place between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, this nationally recognized day urges consumers to keep their dollars local and support their small business community by simply shopping at their locally owned businesses within their community.

    GO Topeka’s Entrepreneurial and Minority Business Development program, led by Glenda Washington, is supporting this effort by providing a “Shop Small Directory” that will allow customers an overview of all the Topeka community’s small businesses, along with what promotions they will be offering that day. You can pick up your directory by stopping by their office at 120 SE Sixth Ave., suite 110, after November 20, or by visiting gotopeka.com. There will also be a section in the Topeka Capitol-Journal that will feature a listing of all the businesses included.

    Small business owners are encouraged to submit their entry for the directory by visiting http://bit.ly/TopCitySmallBiz before Nov. 14. It is free to advertise in this directory. To qualify, businesses must be locally owned and employ less than 50 people. The directory will break down the Topeka area by shopping regions to provide the public a better idea of the city’s overall small business landscape.

    “Small Business Saturday is an important way for community businesses to promote and get their name out for the holiday season,” stated Washington, Vice President of Entrepreneurial and Minority Business Development at GO Topeka. “Our Topeka economy relies on dollars staying local. When you support the community in this way the money you spend is almost twice as likely to stay in our area, supporting everyone. So, shop local, shop small, that’s the power of all of us.”

    Small Business Saturday is a national campaign founded by American Express in 2010 and became officially recognized in 2011 by the U.S. Senate. It takes place on the Saturday following Thanksgiving each year and American Express provides a Shop Small Kit for free to each of the businesses that qualify. During this day in 2015, 95 million people across the U.S. went out to shop at small businesses.

    As of the end of the first quarter of 2016, Shawnee County housed 4,971 businesses with less than 50 employees, which accounts for $282,460,665 in wages paid. These stats are provided by the Kansas Department of Labor.

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  6. Reser’s Fine Foods to Invest $86.5 Million in Topeka Plant with Estimated Annual Impact of $90 Million

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    Media Contact: Jared Hitchens, Chamber, 785.234.2644

    Reser’s Fine Foods, a leading manufacturer of freshly prepared foods, announced plans at tonight’s Joint Economic Development Organization meeting to break ground on a 300,000 square foot facility in the spring of 2017 for a new prepared salad plant. The company intends to invest $86.5 million and create 180 jobs through a two-phase project. Phase One will entail a $67 million capital investment in a new state-of-the-art plant. The project will bring an additional 40 jobs to the community with annual wages of approximately $25,000 plus benefits.

    Currently, Reser’s has 1,100 employees at the Topeka campus, 390 of whom work in the prepared salad plant.

    The new prepared salad plant will not only support the sustained growth Reser’s has experienced over the past several years, but will also position the company for future expansion. All manufacturing activities and jobs at the existing prepared salad plant will move to the new facility in January 2018.

    In the past 25 years, Reser’s has built two plants and expanded both locations multiple times, built a truck shop and most recently added a large-scale, high-tech distribution center.

    “Reser’s roots run deep in Topeka,” said President Mark Reser. “Our family and the company have been connected to the city for decades, and our long-standing partnership with the community has fueled the company’s growth. This new plant reinforces our continued commitment to this community today and into the future.”

    Reser said the new facility is being designed to incorporate enhanced flexibility and innovations in food manufacturing to fulfill the varied demands of the marketplace.

    In Phase Two, the company will make a facility investment totaling $19.5 million and create 140 new jobs. Phase Two has an anticipated completion date of fall 2019.

    JEDO approved a maximum incentive total of $665,000–$329,000 for capital investment and $336,000 for job creation. The incentives are performance based and will be paid over a five-year period.

    Mayor Larry Wolgast said an impact analysis study showed that the company’s investment will have a one-time $115 million benefit to the city and county. Additionally, the recurring impact is estimated at $90 million each year as long as the 180 jobs are maintained.

    “Reser’s Fine Foods has been an exemplary employer in our community since its inception,” said Wolgast. “We are pleased that they have chosen to expand their presence again on the city’s east side to provide more jobs to people in our community.”

    Shelly Buhler, JEDO chair and Shawnee County Commission chair, said, “Reser’s Fine Foods and other manufacturing companies can provide a gateway for employees to learn new skills and have opportunities to advance through the ranks while accruing full benefits. These new positions will allow employees to secure sustainable employment and access additional training.”

    Scott Griffith, GO Topeka chair, said, “Tonight’s announcement marks yet another JEDO meeting this year in which area employers have come forward with plans for adding jobs and upgrading facilities—FHLBank Topeka, se2, Futamura USA and now Reser’s Fine Foods. We are fortunate to have these committed companies contributing to our county’s economic vitality.”

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  7. Reser’s Fine Foods to Invest $86.5 Million in Topeka Plant with Estimated Annual Impact of $90 Million

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    MEDIA RELEASE – Oct. 19, 2016         

    Contact: Jared Hitchens, Chamber, 785.234.2644

    Reser’s Fine Foods, a leading manufacturer of freshly prepared foods, announced plans at tonight’s Joint Economic Development Organization meeting to break ground on a 300,000 square foot facility in the spring of 2017 for a new prepared salad plant. The company intends to invest $86.5 million and create 180 jobs through a two-phase project. Phase One will entail a $67 million capital investment in a new state-of-the-art plant. The project will bring an additional 40 jobs to the community with annual wages of approximately $25,000 plus benefits.

    Currently, Reser’s has 1,100 employees at the Topeka campus, 390 of whom work in the prepared salad plant.

    The new prepared salad plant will not only support the sustained growth Reser’s has experienced over the past several years, but will also position the company for future expansion. All manufacturing activities and jobs at the existing prepared salad plant will move to the new facility in January 2018.

    In the past 25 years, Reser’s has built two plants and expanded both locations multiple times, built a truck shop and most recently added a large-scale, high-tech distribution center.

    “Reser’s roots run deep in Topeka,” said President Mark Reser. “Our family and the company have been connected to the city for decades, and our long-standing partnership with the community has fueled the company’s growth. This new plant reinforces our continued commitment to this community today and into the future.”

    Reser said the new facility is being designed to incorporate enhanced flexibility and innovations in food manufacturing to fulfill the varied demands of the marketplace.

    In Phase Two, the company will make a facility investment totaling $19.5 million and create 140 new jobs. Phase Two has an anticipated completion date of fall 2019.

    JEDO approved a maximum incentive total of $665,000–$329,000 for capital investment and $336,000 for job creation. The incentives are performance based and will be paid over a five-year period.

    Mayor Larry Wolgast said an impact analysis study showed that the company’s investment will have a one-time $115 million benefit to the city and county. Additionally, the recurring impact is estimated at $90 million each year as long as the 180 jobs are maintained.

    “Reser’s Fine Foods has been an exemplary employer in our community since its inception,” said Wolgast. “We are pleased that they have chosen to expand their presence again on the city’s east side to provide more jobs to people in our community.”

    Shelly Buhler, JEDO chair and Shawnee County Commission chair, said, “Reser’s Fine Foods and other manufacturing companies can provide a gateway for employees to learn new skills and have opportunities to advance through the ranks while accruing full benefits. These new positions will allow employees to secure sustainable employment and access additional training.”

    Scott Griffith, GO Topeka chair, said, “Tonight’s announcement marks yet another JEDO meeting this year in which area employers have come forward with plans for adding jobs and upgrading facilities—FHLBank Topeka, se2, Futamura USA and now Reser’s Fine Foods. We are fortunate to have these committed companies contributing to our county’s economic vitality.”

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  8. Community Assessment and Regional Scorecards Information Released

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    For the Topeka/Shawnee County Holistic Economic Development Strategy website, go to www.topekashawneecountystrategy.com.

    Today the Topeka-Shawnee County Holistic Economic Development Strategy Steering Committee released the Community Assessment and Regional Scorecards results from a community survey and data study of regional peers undertaken with Market Street. Tri-chairs for the steering committee are Mayor Larry Wolgast, Shawnee County Commission Chair Shelly Buhler and Keith Warta, president of Bartlett & West. Partnering organizations for the study include GO Topeka, Heartland Visioning, Topeka Community Foundation, Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library and United Way of Greater Topeka.

    In August, Market Street, an economic development company that works with cities across the country, administered a survey completed by 2,295 residents, workers and business leaders. The information has been woven into six key stories that present a narrative discussion of top issues facing Topeka-Shawnee County: 1) A Critical Need to Improve Community Pride; 2) Threats to a Strong Workforce Go Beyond Population Growth; 3) Quality of Place Enhancements Are Needed to Change Outlooks; 4) Homegrown Talent: A Need to Connect the Local and Regional Talent Pipeline; 5) Enhancing Economic Opportunities Through Existing Strengths; and 6) Prosperity and Well-Being Lag Behind.

    J. Mac Holiday, president, chief executive officer and founder of Market Street, said, “As the nation recovers from The Great Recession, it is vital that communities and regions rethink their community and economic development strategy. There have been fundamental changes in the structure of our economy. Topeka-Shawnee County is in an excellent position to take advantage of new and different opportunities, but it will take hard work and a strong community unity. This work is a ‘team sport.’”

    Market Street has worked with numerous communities across the country to enhance reputation and economic vitality, including Austin, Texas; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and Des Moines, Iowa. Topeka Metropolitan Statistical Area data was compared against nine regions with which it shares attributes and/or competes for jobs and workers: Des Moines, Iowa; Fort Smith, Arkansas; Jefferson City, Missouri; Lincoln, Nebraska; Little Rock, Arkansas; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Springfield, Illinois; Springfield, Missouri; and Wichita, Kansas.

    During the next few months, the steering committee will draft an action plan with implementation to begin in April 2017.

    Here are key findings in each category:

    Community Pride
    With regard to community pride, the report revealed that 45 percent of the survey respondents indicated that they were “not likely” or only “somewhat likely” to remain in the area. When asked whether their children would remain in the community, just 10.4 percent of respondents said this was “very likely” compared to 56.1 percent who said it was “not likely.” Issues that affect these perceptions include losing residents to Lawrence and Kansas City and quality of place, including social offerings and the community’s physical appearance. Recent efforts underway to enhance downtown and the riverfront, as well as other sectors of the community, have “already begun to have a positive influence on internal perceptions of the community,” according to the report.

    Wolgast said, “The process of rebuilding community pride is already underway and gaining momentum. The announcements we’ve made this year and the enhancements that are now evident downtown and in the NOTO Arts District are creating welcoming gathering spaces that complement first-class events.”

    Workforce
    Topeka-Shawnee County is gaining residents from smaller nearby communities and rural areas while losing residents at an even greater rate to other large and/or highly competitive metro areas. Stakeholders indicated that the area’s proximity to Kansas City and Lawrence is both a “blessing and a curse.” Additionally, nearly 40 percent of the primary jobs in Topeka-Shawnee County that pay at least $40,000 per year are held by individuals who live outside of Topeka-Shawnee County. Educational attainment rates among individuals 25 to 44 are rising faster in the state and the nation than they are in Topeka-Shawnee County.

    Buhler said the report’s key takeaways in this area focus on cultivating homegrown talent to “enhance a competitive workforce and drive prosperity” now and in the future by retaining those individuals who already have a connection to the community.

    “In the past three years, Washburn Institute of Technology has made incredible inroads by offering new programs and establishing partnerships with area companies like BNSF and Mars to enhance training availability,” said Buhler. “A proposed campus on the east side of Topeka could help accelerate the impact. Washburn University, Fast Forward and other organizations are putting things in place to help showcase the community’s attributes for people of all ages. 

    Quality of Place
    While Topeka-Shawnee County receives high marks for affordable housing and easy commutes, respondents shared concerns about a lack of social offerings and walkable mixed-use districts. 

    “Quality of place is a key factor in our ability to recruit top engineers and other employees,” said Warta. “We have first-rate recreational amenities, great schools and other excellent attributes, but survey respondents across all age groups indicated a need to invest in our city’s aesthetics, infrastructure and entertainment opportunities especially.”

    Homegrown Talent
    The report noted that respondents indicated that many “components of a comprehensive cradle-to-careers pipeline are in place, and significant improvements could be derived” from alignment and collaboration. Other needs that emerged from the data and input include maintaining and expanding childhood education programs, boosting achievement in Topeka Public Schools, reviving the M-Tech program at Washburn Institute of Technology, expanding computer and IT programs and strengthening connections in the region.

    Gina Millsap, chief executive officer of the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library, said collaborations like the proposed Dolly Parton Imagination Library will have a direct impact on economic development for years to come. Through the program, for which fundraising is already underway to reach a first-tier goal of $250,000, any child in Shawnee County age 0 to 5 can receive a book in the mail each month through a collaboration between the library and the United Way of Greater Topeka.

    “Education and economic development are inseparable,” said Millsap. “Children who are successful at early ages are more likely to complete high school and pursue vocational training and college educations. In turn, educated people are more likely to vote, volunteer, donate to causes and engage in cultural offerings.”

    Economic Opportunities
    While many stakeholders said they viewed Topeka-Shawnee County as a blue collar town that manufactures and moves goods, these sectors are less concentrated locally than they are in the national economy. In actuality, the community’s key economic drivers are government, health care and various other corporate and service-based sectors, primarily finance and insurance. 

    GO Topeka, the community’s economic development provider, focuses its activities around four main targets: advanced systems technology, food manufacturing, logistics and distribution and professional and financial services. Between 2005 and 2015, they combined to add more than 3,300 jobs.

    The county’s advantageous geographic location, interstate access, affordable real estate and other qualities have also made it a prime location for starting and expanding food manufacturing operations, according to the report.

    Scott Griffith, chair of the GO Topeka board, said, “Topeka-Shawnee County has many strengths that make it a popular, profitable section of the country in which to do business. We have attracted top performing companies or helped them expand in all of these sectors in recent years, and more plans are in the pipeline.”

     Although Topeka boasts many entrepreneurial startups—from global companies like Payless ShoeSource and Hill’s to national companies like Security Benefit, se2 and Advisors Excel—the report indicated there is room for improvement. Just 3.8 percent of the Topeka-Shawnee County workforce is self-employed compared to the national average of 6.5 percent.

    GO Topeka’s Entrepreneurial & Minority Business Development, 712 Innovations and Washburn University’s Small Business Development Center all offer programs designed to help entrepreneurs plan and prepare for a greater chance of success.

    Prosperity
    Although the data reveal that real per capita income has increased, thereby providing residents with more purchasing power, wage growth has not kept pace with inflation. Poverty in Topeka-Shawnee County is down overall but the report said a “frustratingly” high proportion of residents—including more than one in five children—live below the poverty line.

    In conclusion, the study said, “It is important to re-emphasize that Topeka-Shawnee County cannot let low morale or negative attitudes stand in the way of progress. In Market Street’s experience, even self-image problems that have been decades in the making can be turned around in a short amount of time with simple, meaningful demonstrations of progress.”

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  9. Howey Receives Designation of Certified Economic Developer from IEDC

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    Molly Howey, director of business development, for GO Topeka, recently earned the International Economic Development Council’s designation of certified economic developer, a national recognition that denotes a mastery of skills in economic development, professional attainment and a commitment to personal and professional growth.

    Matt Pivarnik, president and chief executive officer of GO Topeka and the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce, said, “This designation validates Molly’s expertise and commitment to keeping current on all aspects of economic development, and we are lucky to have her on our team. It’s also a testament to the caliber of the professional staff that our economic development team brings to the region.”

    The CEcD designation recognizes qualified and dedicated practitioners in the field and sets the standard of excellence within the profession. Candidates must pass a rigorous and comprehensive examination, which has three parts and spans two days. The exam tests a practitioner’s knowledge, proficiency and judgment in the following key areas of economic development:

    • Business retention and expansion
    • Finance and credit analysis
    • Marketing and attraction
    • Strategic planning
    • Entrepreneurial and small business development
    • Managing economic development organizations
    • Neighborhood development strategies
    • Real estate development and reuse
    • Technology-led economic development
    • Workforce development strategies

    The IEDC is a nonprofit membership organization serving economic developers and has more than 4,700 members employed in local, state, provincial and federal governments, public-private partnerships, chambers of commerce, universities and a variety of other institutions.

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  10. Alorica Announces Philanthropic Alliance with Topeka Veterans as Company Continues Selection Process to Meet Expansion Goals

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    Alorica, a leading global provider of customer engagement services online, on mobile, on the phone and on social media, announced today that it is partnering with Military Veterans Project, a Topeka-based nonprofit dedicated to preventing suicides among military veterans and supporting medical research into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other issues affecting veterans. The company’s own customer engagement experts in Topeka will help the organization raise money to support medical research and Alorica is committed to volunteering at the non-profit organization’s events that are focused on raising awareness around these critical issues.

    The announcement came at a “Career Meet and Greet” hosted by Alorica at its Topeka location today as the company welcomed Mayor Larry Wolgast to the facility. The company is in the middle of a push to hire hundreds of customer engagement experts with a passion for technology and helping solve other people’s problems. In June, Alorica publicly announced that after its initial hiring phase that it had 200 career opportunities remaining open. That goal has since been raised to 350.

    “One of Topeka’s most noteworthy citizens was Harry Colmery, who created the GI Bill and did so much to improve the lives of veterans for whom we owe such a debt of gratitude,” said Mayor Larry Wolgast. “The company’s collaboration with a local veterans group will raise much-needed money for training and referral programs as well as for research and support services to reduce veteran suicide rates. We are thrilled the company will put its customer-service expertise toward shining a spotlight on veteran affairs and acknowledging their sacrifice and service on our behalf.”
    Ken Muche, director of global public relations for Alorica, said, “Alorica is a different type of company with a culture that celebrates making lives better one interaction at a time—with each other, with the customers we serve and in the communities where we live and work. Partnering with the Military Veterans Project is one example of our employees helping Topeka—by honoring veterans and letting them know that their service and sacrifices are appreciated and essential to our freedom and quality of life.”

    In June 2015, the Joint Economic Development Organization voted 7-0 to revise an incentive agreement with Alorica’s call center targeted at creating more than 100 jobs to accommodate a new contract with a Fortune 25 company. The agreement reduced a previous minimum threshold from 500 jobs to 300 jobs to qualify for payment, providing the company with $150,000 to remodel its facility and hire new workers.

    JEDO’s investment in Alorica has not only positioned the company for competitive growth but also the Topeka community through significant job creation.

    “By treating its customers well, Alorica has continued to attract high-caliber clients who benefit from a regional workforce known for its work ethic and friendliness,” Wolgast said.

    “Alorica’s commitment to its workforce, its customers and the Topeka community is commendable, and we are pleased that GO Topeka and JEDO were able to help facilitate a collaboration that led to their commitment to the Topeka community,” said Scott Griffith, GO Topeka chair.